Photo Credit: Yossi Aloni/Flash90
Young woman cleans tar on Palmachim beach following an offshore oil spill that damaged most of Israel's coastline, February 23, 2021.

Following an alert it received earlier this week from the European EMSA satellite monitoring system regarding the appearance of an oil slick about 35 nautical miles west of Ashdod, Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry and defense establishment sent out observation planes that discovered suspicious spots some 20 to 40 kilometers west of the coastline, from Rishon Lezion area to Netanya. The spots were examined closely on Wednesday and the ministry has graded the event at Tier 3.

The ministry instructed the coastal municipalities, the Nature and Parks Authority, Electric Company, water desalination facilities, and the companies and factories along the coastline, to use the local emergency protocol according to the response plan for oil pollution incidents and prepare accordingly. Wednesday will see hourly situation assessment sessions with the heads of the coastal municipalities and the Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (Meretz).

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) in the situation room, Feb. 2, 2022. / Environmental Protection Ministry

Minister Zandberg said in the situation room: “All the parties are working in the field and the situation room, monitoring what’s happening and managing the incident. The suspicion of an oil slick in the sea has not yet been confirmed or refuted, and we continue to conduct point-by-point aerial scans at sea together with all the security forces. We hope for the best scenario, but we are prepared for any situation.”

Tar pollution on the shores of Haifa, February 2021. / Coastal Division, Haifa Municipality

About a year ago, extensive tar pollution hit the Israeli shores as a result of an oil leak, apparently from a tanker that was on its way to Syria. Many beaches were polluted as a result. After a cleanup operation that lasted several weeks, with the help of volunteers, most of the beaches were cleaned, with the final cleanup effort completed a few months ago. The only beaches that have not been treated yet are in use by the security apparatus, where the cleanup is scheduled to take place soon.

Over the past year, the Environmental Protection Ministry has been procuring equipment to prevent oil pollution, which is later followed by tar pollution of the beaches. The ministry has also been working to expand the early warning system using satellites.

The ship Bat Galim before setting out to inspect the oil-slick off the coast of Netanya, Feb. 1, 2022. / The Environmental Protection Ministry

The ship Bat Galim, which is shared by the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Office for Sea and Lakes Explorations, is going out to sea with equipment for spraying dispersants and collecting samples. A dispersant or a dispersing agent is a substance that’s added to particles in a liquid to improve the separation of the particles and to prevent their settling or clumping.

If the samples reveal that the oil slick extends over many square miles, the ability to treat it at sea would be quite limited.

The National Marine Environmental Protection Unit is already organizing all available civilian capabilities for the treatment of pollution at sea and onshore. The IDF, through naval ships and air patrols, is assisting in monitoring the damage and formulating a response. The Home Front Command is prepared to assist as the stain reaches the shore. And the National Information System and the Environmental Protection Ministry coordinate the information activities.

Now we wait.


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